At your service

The U.S. Commercial Service is designed to help small and medium-size
businesses expand into international sales. With trade specialists in more than
100 American cities, the primary thrust of
the U.S. Commercial Service is to equip
businesses with the knowledge and tools
necessary to navigate the foreign market.

Over the past several years, a confluence
of factors — including free trade agreements, technological advancements, and
U.S. government programs and partnerships — have converged to simplify the
export process.

According to B. Peter Knudson, senior
vice president and regional manager, international trade finance at Comerica Bank,
now is the ideal time for businesses to
engage in exporting.

“One of the few bright spots in the U.S.
economy today is the export market,” he
says. “Because of the weakness of the dollar and the weakness of the U.S. market,
exports have been increasing and have created a lot of new opportunities for U.S.
companies, particularly small- to mediumsize enterprises.”

Smart Business spoke with Knudson
about the U.S. Commercial Service, the
services it provides and how a company
can secure export financing.

What is the U.S. Commercial Service?

The U.S. Commercial Service is the trade
promotion arm of the U.S. Department of
Commerce. Its primary purpose is to help
create economic opportunity for American
workers and businesses. The U.S.
Commercial Service does this through promoting trade and investment with the
objective of promoting prosperity and a
better world throughout. The U.S.
Commercial Service provides the opportunity for companies — particularly small-to medium-size ones — to utilize the
resources of the U.S. government.

What type of assistance does the U.S.
Commercial Service provide to exporters?

The U.S. Commercial Service has trade
specialists in 107 U.S. cities and more than
80 countries who will work with companies
directly to either help them begin to export
or to increase sales internationally. Services
include market research, trade events,
introductions to qualified buyers and distributors, education, and counseling and
advocacy throughout the export process.

How does the U.S. Commercial Service partner with corporate organizations to build
awareness of exporting opportunities?

The Department of Commerce selects
certain companies to help promote their
activities through a ‘forced multiplier
effect.’ Basically, it joins forces to leverage
both the private company that is its partner
and the government resources that the
Department of Commerce has. It looks to
partner with private-sector companies that
it considers best in class. Some of its partners include UPS, FedEx, eBay, the law
firm Baker & McKenzie and, most recently,
Comerica Bank.

How are corporate partners selected?

Corporate partners are selected on a
number of criteria, including being considered as best in class, having a recognizable
name, being regionally or globally strong,
and having a stake and being involved with
international trade and business. Also, they
must possess a significant customer base
that is either currently seeking to expand
its international business or seeking to
enter the international business field.

How can a company secure export financing?

A company must first have a relationship
with a commercial bank, and it must have
the ability to qualify for credit under normal credit terms. An important component
for companies that are looking to expand
into exporting is what we term trade cycle
financing. This method of financing allows
banks to help companies finance the sale
of their products from the initial order
through to the collection of the accounts
receivable. There are many ways in which
they do this, including working with the
Export-Import Bank of the United States
and obtaining export credit insurance from
private companies. Banks also provide normal working capital as well as assistance in
helping hedge the foreign currency risk
that might be involved with international

How should a company proceed if it is interested in working with a partner of the U.S.
Commercial Service?

Through their partnership with the U.S.
Department of Commerce, there are corporate organizations that can be of assistance, including Comerica Bank. They can
introduce a potential exporter to one of the
trade finance specialists of the Department
of Commerce and help them identify markets, identify distributors and provide
financing so they can be successful in their
business expansion.

B. PETER KNUDSON is senior vice president and regional manager, international trade finance at Comerica Bank. Reach him at
(310) 297-2849 or [email protected].